Luke 2:1-3 Taxing or a Census?
Luke 2:1-3 KJB - "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world shoud BE TAXED. (And THIS TAXING was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went TO BE TAXED, every one into his own city."
NKJV - "And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should BE REGISTERED. This CENSUS first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went TO BE REGISTERED, everyone to his own city."
Another example of the typical attacks made by the King James Bible critics is taken from Luke chapter two.
At one of the Christian clubs I belong to a member writes:
"that all the world should be REGISTERED, This CENSUS first took place...Luke 2:1-3 (NKJV) versus, "that all the world should BE TAXED. And this TAXING was first made when Cyrenius was governor..." (KJV).
He then comments: "Both versions come from the same text, the Textus Receptus. Why the apparent discrepancy? Here it is not the Greek that is in question. It is the translation. There was no taxation at the time of Christ's birth. That is what the KJV says. But that is not what the Greek actually conveys. It wasn't a tax at all. It was a census that was being taken. But then how would you know that if you never went to the Greek? There is an obvious loss of meaning in translation, if not here an obvious error in translation. How important is it, to check the original source and not to confine oneself to a translation that is not inspired, and cannot be infallible?" [End of this Bible corrector's comments]
Other bible versions that basically read like the NKJV and do NOT mention TAXING but rather a CENSUS or a REGISTRATION are the RV, ASV, Darby, ESV, RSV, NIV, NASB, Holman Standard, Jehovah Witness NWT, and the Catholic versions like the Douay, St. Joseph New American bible and the New Jerusalem bible.
The Catholic Connection
ALL Catholic versions like the Douay-Rheims 1582, the Douay 1950, St. Joseph New American Bible 1970, New Jerusalem bible 1985 and the 2009 Catholic Public Domain version, as well as the Jehovah Witness New World Translation read like the NKJV, ESV, NIV, NASB with "In those days Caesar Augustus published a decree ordering A CENSUS of the whole world.This first CENSUS took place...Everyone went TO REGISTER, each to his own town." (St. Joseph NAB 1970)
So how do we King James Bible believers answer this criticism? First, we should point out what the Greek word in question actually refers to. Secondly, we will show that not all Bible translators are in agreement with this man's OPINION, and Thirdly, we will show that not all Bible commentators agree with him either.
Many Greek Lexicons point out that the word apographee and the verb form, apographo, can refer to a taxation.
Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford Press 1968 says on page 194 (All caps are mine): 1. A register; 2. A register of persons LIABLE TO TAXATION. 3. A written list.
Moulton and Milligan's Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament says on page 60 that "the new laographic POLL -TAX was closely connected with the census." Then they give an example of the Greek verb apographo being translated as: "I have REGISTERED AS SUBJECT TO TAX...."
The Baer, Arndt, and Gingrich Greek Lexicon 1957 says on page 88 regarding the word apographee: "An inventory of the statistical reports and declarations of citizens FOR THE PURPOSE OF COMPLETING THE TAX LISTS and family registers."
Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, Zondervan, 19th printing 1978 page 60 says: "An enrolment of the public record of persons together with their property and income that it might appear HOW MUCH TAX SHOULD BE LEVIED upon each one."
Easton's Bible Dictionary - Luke 2:1-3 taxing. (Luke 2:2; RSV, "enrolment"), "when Cyrenius was governor of Syria," is simply a census of the people, or an enrolment of them WITH A VIEW TO THEIR TAXATION. The decree for the enrolment was the occasion of Joseph and Mary's going up to Bethlehem. It has been argued by some that Cyrenius was governor of Cilicia and Syria both at the time of our Lord's birth and some years afterwards. This decree FOR THE TAXING referred to the whole Roman world, and not to Judea alone."
The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia says: "Quirinius was sent to Judea to take a census (apographe) FOR THE PURPOSE OF THE POLL-TAX."
Smith's Bible Dictionary notes: "The registration of the people for the PURPOSE OF A POLL-TAX. Two distinct registrations, OR TAXINGS, are mentioned in the New Testament, both of them by St. Luke. The first is said to have been the result of an edict of the emperor Augustus, that "all the world (i.e. the Roman empire) should BE TAXED," (Luke 2:1) and is connected by the evangelist with the name of Cyrenius."
Meyer’s New Testament Commentary (Caps are mine) - ἀπογράφεσθαι] “that there should be recorded,” CANNOT AT ALL BE MEANT OF A MERE REGISTRATION… as is held by Kuinoel, Olshausen, Ebrard, Wieseler, Ewald, and older expositors, BUT MUST, on account of Luke 2:2 be placed on the same footing in respect of its nature with the census Quirinii, and is therefore to be regarded as THE DIRECT REGISTRATION INTO THE TAX LISTS, BELONGING TO THE CENSUS PROPER AND FORMING ITS ESSENTIAL ELEMENT, as, in fact, ἀπογράφειν, ἀπογράφεσθαι, ἀπογραφή (Acts 5:37 “rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of taxing”) ARE THE STANDING EXPRESSIONS FOR THE RECORDING OF ESTATE, whether in affairs of law-procedure, or IN THOSE OF TAXING.”
Other Bible Versions
Not only does the King James Bible correctly read "should BE TAXED, and THIS TAXING was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria" but so do the following English Bible translations: Tyndale 1525, Coverdale 1535, the Great Bible 1540, Matthew's Bible 1549, the Bishops' Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1587, Beza's New Testament 1599, the Bill Bible 1671, the Worsley Version 1770 - "this tax was first levied when Cyrenius was governor of Syria", the Clarke N.T. 1795, Webster's 1833 translation, the Morgan New Testament 1848 "commanding all the householders TO BE TAXED", The Revised New Testament 1862, The Dillard New Testament 1885, The Clarke N.T. 1913, Wade N.T. 1934 - "register themselves FOR THE PURPOSE OF TAXATION", The Word of Yah 1993, Green's Modern KJV 1998, the KJV 21st Century version 1994, The Revised Webster Bible 1995, the Third Millennium Bible 1998, God's First Truth 1999, The Revised Geneva Bible 2005, the Bond Slave Version 2009, Hebraic Transliteration Scripture 2010, the Jubilee Bible 2010 - "And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world SHOULD BE TAXED."
The 2011 Expanded Bible, by Thomas Nelson, says: "must list their names in a register [register for TAXATION]"
The new Critical Text Common English Bible of 2011 has; "that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the TAX lists."
The Translators Bible 2012 - "a census to be taken...so that the government could COLLECT TAXES FROM THEM."
Even Dan Wallace’s NET version 2006 says: “Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire FOR TAXES."
Scholars, as usual, are spread all over the map in their interpretations of this passage, but there are many scholarly articles written about these events recorded in Luke 2 in which the authors clearly tell us that this census or registry was for the explicit purpose, NOT of merely counting the people, but for the purpose of TAXATION.
"The “census” was a registration or enrollment of the people. The TAXATION would follow based on the census or registration. IT WAS REALLY A REGISTRATION FOR TAXING PURPOSES. The census is for the registration of all citizens in the Roman Empire so the government could collect taxes in the near future. This was the first of regular censuses to follow every 14 years."
The King James Version of the Bible says, "that all the world should be taxed." Most other translations say something like "that all the world should be registered" (NRS) or "that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world" (NIV). The Greek verb is apographo, that literally means to "enroll" or "register" as in an official listing of citizens. What was it then, a census or A TAXING? BOTH. It would have been a census taken in part FOR THE PURPOSE OF ASSESSING TAXES.
According to Sir William Ramsey, a noted Classicist of the early 20th Century, this was the first census of the Roman Empire. Augustus ordered it so he had an idea of the number of people in the empire and its resources. The ultimate purpose, though was TAXATION. NOTE: Ramsey was a believer and a strong advocate for the historical accuracy of the New Testament historical books.
John MacArthur (certainly no KJB onlyist) writes about Luke 2 saying: "The Roman Empire was vast and he used census BASICALLY FOR TAXATION. That's the same reason we have census today in our own country, to identify all the citizens SO THEY CAN BE TAXED. And that's exactly what was happening in that day. He wanted TO TAX the full extent of the Roman Empire because he was providing services for all of these nations which had become vassals to the great power of Rome... Herod didn't know anything about the purposes and plan of God. But God was working all the details on a world setting. From Caesar's standpoint HE WAS TAXING."
David Guzik's Commentaries on the Bible says: "The registration and census described WASN'T FOR SIMPLE RECORD-KEEPING or statistics. IT WAS TO efficiently and effectively TAX everyone in the Roman Empire."
John Lightfoot says in his commentary on the gospel of Luke: "Aethicus tells us, this had been done before; whose words, since they concern so great and noble a monument of antiquity, may not prove tedious to the reader to be transcribed in this place: "He took upon him the government both of their manners and laws, and both perpetual: by which right, though without the title of censor, he laid A TAX upon the people three times; the first and third with his colleague, the second alone." The first with his colleague, M. Agrippa; the third, with his colleague Tiberius; the second, by himself alone; and this was THE TAX our evangelist makes mention of in this place."
The People's New Testament Commentary says: "That all the world. The Roman empire which embraced all the world then known to civilization; all southern and western Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. Should be enrolled. A census was to be taken as a preliminary to A POLL TAX in the provinces. Augustus Cæsar, incensed at Herod, ordered an enrolment FOR TAXATION of the Jews the year of the birth of Jesus. It was carried out in all probability by Cyrenius. The intercession of Herod's minister, Nicolas, averted the displeasure of Augustus and THE TAXATION did not take place until Cyrenius was governor of Syria, after Archelaus, son of Herod, was deposed...Women had to be enrolled also and were subject to THE POLL TAX. Mary was of the line of David, and hence would also have to go to Bethlehem."
Even Robertson's Word Pictures, (very much against the KJB) says: "It was a census, not a taxing, though taxing generally followed and was based on the census."
Pulpit Commentary - "Quirinius, it is well known, was governor (legatus or praeses) of Syria ten years later, and during his office a census or registration - WITH A VIEW TO TAXATION - which led to a popular disturbance, was made in his province."
Jamieson, Fausset and Brown comment: "THAT THERE WAS A TAXING, however, of the whole Roman Empire under Augustus, IS NOW ADMITTED BY ALL; and candid critics, even of skeptical tendency, are ready to allow that there is not likely to be any real inaccuracy in the statement of our Evangelist. But it is perhaps better to suppose, with others, that the registration may have been ordered WITH A VIEW TO THE TAXATION, about the time of our Lord's birth, though THE TAXING itself--an obnoxious measure in Palestine--was not carried out till the time of Quirinus."
Gaebelein's Annotated Bible - "According to prophecy the Saviour had to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). But Mary lived in Nazareth. God in His own marvelous way ordered everything and Caesar Augustus was directed to issue the decree of TAXATION at such a time and in such a way and also the journey of Joseph and his espoused wife, Mary, that she had to be in Bethlehem when the days were accomplished that she should be delivered."
Matthew Poole's Commentary on the Bible - "Luke 2:1-5 Augustus TAXES all the Roman empire: Joseph goeth with Mary TO BE TAXED at Bethlehem. It was the custom of the Romans to take a particular account of the numbers and qualities of all persons inhabiting countries under their jurisdiction, IN ORDER TO THE LAYING OF TAXES UPON THEM."
John Calvin notes in his Commentaries Volume XVI: "Agustus orders a registration to take place in Judea, and each person to give his name, that they may afterwards PAY AN ANNUAL TAX...Nor did Herod's peculiar authority as king make it inconsistent that the Jews should pay to the Roman Empire a stipulated sum for each man UNDER THE NAME OF A TAX."
There is no error at all in the King James Bible reading of "all the world should be taxed". This registry or enrollment was NOT just a head count of the people. To translate in such a way as do the NKJV, NASB, NIV, ESV, and Holman versions, that this was merely a census of the population is to miss the point. The registry was made for the specific purpose of TAXATION and the King James Bible and several others correctly bring out this meaning.
The King James Bible is always right. Get used to it.
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A confirmed bible agnostic, who calls himself tetelistai, writes: “KJVO does cause confusion, and you are Exhibit A.
For example, you think every time the word "world" is used in the KJV it literally means planet earth, and all of planet earth. Yet, when Luke 2:1 KJV tells us that Caesar Augustus said "all the world should be taxed", you know the Mayans in Central America, at the time, didn't pay taxes to Caesar Augustus in Rome. So, it's not literally "all the world". [End of Bible critics comments]
Actually, “tetelestai” simply needs to learn more about his own English language, and stop looking for “errors” and try to understand and believe The Book.
: the earth and all the people and things on it
: A PART OF THE WORLD AND THE PEOPLE AND THINGS THAT EXIST THERE
: human society
Webster’s Dicionary 1828
15. The principal nations or countries of the earth. Alexander conquered the world.
16. The Roman empire.
17. A large tract of country; a wide compass of things.
Oxford English Dictionary - the world
A region or group of countries:
the English-speaking world
American Heritage Dictionary
3. often World A specified part of the earth: the Western World.
4. A part of the earth and its inhabitants as known at a given period in history: the ancient world.
Collins English Dictionary
a division or section of the earth, its history, or its inhabitants“ ⇒ ■ the Western World”, “ ⇒ ■ the Ancient World”, “ ⇒ ■ the Third World”
Macmillian Dictionary - the world - a particular group of countries
Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary
A group of things such as countries, or animals, or an area of human activity or understanding
The Muslim world
the modern industrialized world
the animal world
stars from the rock music world
Luke 1:2 “…that all the WORLD should be taxed”
Also reading “all the WORLD” are the following Bibles - Wycliffe 1395, Tyndale 1534, Coverdale 1535, The Great Bible 1540, Matthew’s Bible 1549, the Bishops’ Bible 1568, the Geneva Bible 1587, the Beza N.T. 1599, the Bill Bible 1671, Whiston’s N.T. 1745, Wesley N.T. 1755, Worsley Version 1770, The Pickering N.T. 1840, The Commonly Received Version 1851, Sawyer N.T. 1858, The Revised N.T. 1862, The Dillard N.T. 1885, the Revised Version 1885, Young’s 1898, the American Bible Union N.T. 1865, Noyes Translation 1869, the ASV 1901, Godbey N.T. 1902, The Clarke N.T. 1913, The Moffatt N.T. 1913, Goodspeed’s N.T. 1923 - “the whole world”, The Bible in Basic English 1961, The RSV 1971, The NKJV 1982, the NRSV 1989, The Word of Yah 1993, The Worldwide English N.T. 1998, The Koster Scriptures 1998, The Third Millennium Bible 1998, God’s First Truth 1999, The Tomson N.T. 2002, the Jubilee Bible 2010, the New Heart Bible 2010, the Hebraic Transliteration Scripture 2010, The ESV 2011, Mounce Reverse Interlinear 2011, The Disciples Literal N.T. 2011, The Work of God’s Children Illustrated Bible 2011, World English Bible 2012,The Biblos Bible 2013, International Standard Version 2014, The Hebrew Names Version 2014.
Other translations -
Darby 1890 - “all the HABITABLE WORLD”
Rotherham’s Emphasized bible 1902, Amplified bible 1987, - “all the HABITABLE EARTH”
Living Oracles 1835, Twentieth Century N.T. 1904 - “all the INHABITANTS OF THE EMPIRE” (total paraphrase)
Weymouth 1912, Lexham bible 2012, Holman Standard 2009 - “the whole EMPIRE” (another paraphrase)
Thomas Haweis N.T. 1795 - “the WHOLE LAND” (another paraphrase)
Easy-to-Read Version 2006 - “the countries that were under Roman rule” (a total paraphrase)
The Living Bible 1971 - “throughout THE NATION.”
NASB 1995, Modern English Version 2014 - “the ENTIRE INHABITED EARTH should be taxed.”
NIV 2011 - “the ENTIRE ROMAN WORLD” (another paraphrase)
The Voice 2012 - “the ROMAN EMPIRE” (paraphrase)
Bond Slave Version 2009 - “all the AGE should be taxed” (????)
The Morgan N.T. 1848 - “all THE HOUSEHOLDERS to be taxed” (???)
The Boothroyd Bible 1853 - “the WHOLE LAND”
The Pickering N.T. 2005 - “the WHOLE INHABITED WORLD”
The Resurrection Life N.T. 2005 - “the ROMAN EMPIRE” (total paraphrase)